Birth Name: Kamala Iyer/Devi Harris
Place of Birth: Oakland, Alameda, California, United States
Date of Birth: October 20, 1964
*father – Jamaican
*mother – Tamil Indian
Kamala Harris is an American attorney and politician. She is the Vice President of the United States, having been inaugurated on January 20, 2021. She was elected to the position in 2020. She is the first woman to serve as President or Vice President of the country. Vice President Harris also served as a U.S. Senator from California, from January 3, 2017 to January 18, 2021, as well as, as District Attorney of San Francisco, from January 8, 2004 to January 3, 2011, and Attorney General of California, from January 3, 2011 to January 3, 2017.
She was also a candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States in 2020.
Vice President Harris is the daughter of Shyamala (Gopalan), a cancer researcher, breast cancer specialist, and civil rights activist, and Donald Jasper Harris, an economics professor at Stanford University. She was born as Kamala Iyer Harris, though her middle name was changed to Devi.
Her father is Jamaican, born in Kingston, Surrey, and has African-Jamaican ancestry; he came to the U.S. in 1961. Her mother was an emigrant from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, of Tamil Indian descent; she came to the U.S. in 1958. Her name Kamala comes from the Sanskrit word for the lotus flower. A picture of Vice President Harris’s parents can be seen here. A video of Vice President Harris’s father can be seen here. A picture of Vice President Harris, her sister, and their mother can be seen here.
Vice President Harris is the third person of significant non-white descent to be nominated for U.S. President or Vice President by a major party, after Vice President Charles Curtis, who served from 1929 to 1933, and whose mother was of considerable Native American ancestry, and President Barack Obama, who served from 2009 to 2017, and whose father was a Luo Kenyan.
Vice President Harris is married to entertainment lawyer Douglas Emhoff. Douglas is Jewish.
Vice President Harris’s sister is Maya Harris, a lawyer and public policy advocate. Maya is married to Tony West, who served as U.S. Associate Attorney General. Maya’s daughter, Vice President Harris’s niece, is lawyer and children’s book author Meena Harris.
As a child, Vice President Harris participated in Berkeley’s busing program, as part of desegregation. Her parents divorced. When she was twelve, she moved with her mother and sister to Montréal, Québec, Canada, where her mother worked. Vice President Harris was raised attending both a black Baptist church and a Hindu temple.
Vice President Harris has said:
…if you walked on Hampton’s campus, or Howard’s campus, or Morehouse or Spelman or Fisk [historically black colleges], you would have a much better appreciation for the diaspora, for the diversity, for the beauty in the diversity of who we are as black people… I’m not going to spend my time trying to educate people about who black people are… I am black and I am proud of it… I was born black and I’ll die black and I am proud of it. And I am not gonna make any excuses for it, for anybody, because they don’t understand.
Vice President Harris’s paternal grandfather was Oscar Joseph Harris (the son of Joseph Alexander Harris and Christiana A. “Miss Chrishy” Brown). Oscar was born in Orange Hill, St Ann Parish, Jamaica. Vice President Harris’s great-grandfather Joseph was a land owner and agriculture exporter. Vice President Harris’s grandfather Oscar was said to be descended from Hamilton Brown, a plantation and slave owner, who founded the city Brown’s Town; Hamilton was born in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is not clear if this line of descent is accurate. The veracity of Vice President Harris’s descent from this Hamilton Brown is discussed here.
Vice President Harris’s paternal grandmother was Beryl Christie Finegan (the daughter of Patrick Alhanasous Finegan and Orah Iris Allen). Patrick was born in Thatchfield, St Ann Parish, the son of Patrick Finegan/Fenegon and Mary Watson. Iris was the daughter of John Allen.
Vice President Harris’s maternal grandfather was named Painganadu Venkataraman “P. V.” Gopalan (the son of Venkataraman Iyer and Seethalaksmni/Seethalakshmi). P. V. was born in Thulasendirapuram, Madras Presidency, British India, present-day Mannargudi, Tamil Nadu, India, and was a diplomat for India. He was from a Tamil Brahmin family. Venkataraman was the son of Krishna Iyer and Ahilandeswari Krishnaiyer.
Vice President Harris’s maternal grandmother was named Rajam (the daughter of Meenakshi Ayyar). Rajam was born in Painganadu, Mannargudi. Meenakshi was the daughter of Natesa Ayyar and Janaki.
Margaret Chase Smith was the first woman to launch a notable campaign for a major political party’s presidential nomination, in 1964, for the Republican Party. Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman to have been nominated for Vice President of the United States by a major party, in 1984, and Hillary Clinton is the first woman to have been nominated for the Presidency by a major party, in 2016. Shirley Chisholm won three non-traditional nominating contests in 1972, for the Democratic Party; Hillary Clinton has since been the only woman to have won a major party’s presidential primary and/or nominating contest, 23 in 2008 and 34 in 2016.
Vice President Harris is one of several Asian-Americans who are mounting or have mounted a notable campaign for a major political party’s nomination for President of the United States. The others are:
*Hiram Fong (who sought the 1964 and 1968 Republican nominations; Fong was of Chinese descent)
*Patsy Mink (who sought the 1972 Democratic nomination; Mink was of Japanese descent)
*Bobby Jindal (who sought the 2016 Republican nomination; Jindal is of Indian descent)
*Andrew Yang (who sought the 2020 Democratic nomination; Yang’s parents are Taiwanese)
*Nikki Haley (who is seeking the 2024 Republican nomination; Haley is of Punjabi Indian descent)
*Vivek Ramaswamy (who is seeking the 2024 Republican nomination; Ramaswamy is of Tamil Indian descent)
Vice President Harris is one of five people who were at least partly raised in the Hindu faith to have run for a major party’s presidential nomination. Bobby Jindal, Tulsi Gabbard, who also sought the Democratic Party’s 2020 nomination; Nikki Haley, and Vivek Ramaswamy, are the others. Of the five, only Tulsi and Vivek still identify as Hindu.
Four black Americans have won a caucus and/or primary for a major American political party’s presidential nomination. The four are:
*Walter E. Fauntroy (1972; Democratic; won Washington, D.C.)
*Shirley Chisholm (1972; Democratic; won 3 contests, including New Jersey)
*Jesse Jackson (Democratic; in 1984, he won 2+ states; in 1988, he won 9+ states)
*Barack Obama (Democratic; in 2008, he won 29+ states; in 2012, he won 50+ states)
Sources: Biography of Vice President Kamala Harris – http://racerelations.about.com
Snopes.com article about Vice President Harris’s Jamaican background – https://www.snopes.com
Article about media treatment of Vice President Harris’s Indian heritage – https://www.poynter.org
Family background of Vice President Harris’s father – https://www.jamaicaglobalonline.com
Obituary of Vice President Harris’s mother – http://www.legacy.com